GOP leader struggles with reality (again) trying to defend Trump

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015.

It's been four days since Donald Trump publicly called on China and Ukraine to go after Joe Biden, and the president's Republican allies still aren't sure what to say about it. Some argue he was kidding -- an absurd claim, under the circumstances -- while a few in the GOP have been willing to make their dissatisfaction known. Most in the party have been content to hide and say nothing.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blazed his own trail, making an argument no one else has been willing to make. TPM reported:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made a befuddling claim on "Fox and Friends" Monday morning, arguing that President Trump actually didn't tell China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden on live-television. [...]During an interview on "Fox and Friends" McCarthy was asked about the emerging talking point among Republicans — that Trump was clearly just joking or trolling China when he asked the country to probe his political opponent. McCarthy not only didn't respond to whether the move was just a joke, he argued that Trump's "not saying China should investigate.""You watch what the President said, he's not saying China should investigate," McCarthy said.

There are some elements of any political scandal that involve judgment calls and matters of subjectivity, but this isn't one of them. Four days ago, Donald Trump stood on the White House South Lawn, appeared in front of a significant group of journalists, and said, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens."

I suppose it's possible some very creative person in the House GOP leadership might make the case that there's an ever-so-subtle difference between "China should investigate" and "China should start an investigation," but I'm comfortable concluding that no fair-minded observer would ever take such an argument seriously.

What we're left with is an example of Kevin McCarthy, desperate to shield Trump from accountability, failing to familiarize himself with the most basic elements of a scandal -- for the second time in eight days.

As regular readers know, the House Republican leader appeared on 60 Minutes last weekend to defend the president against the Ukraine scandal, but McCarthy appeared lost when Scott Pelley presented him with basic factual information.

PELLEY: What do you make of this exchange? President Zelensky says, "We are almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes." And President Trump replies, "I would like you to do us a favor though."MCCARTHY: You just added another word.PELLEY: No, it's in the transcript.MCCARTHY: He said- "I'd like you to do a favor though"?PELLEY: Yes, it's in the White House transcript.

At the bottom of page two of the call summary, released by the White House, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is quoted talking about how eager his country is to receive additional military support from the United States. The very next words out of the American president's mouth, according to the document, are, "I would like you to do us a favor, though."

McCarthy knew he was going on 60 Minutes. He knew the topic of the interview. He and his staff had time to prepare for basic questions about obvious details -- such as the single most controversial phrase in the rough transcript that created a political earthquake the moment it was released. It was only 10 words; it stands to reason McCarthy would have familiarized himself with the quote before his national television appearance. But he didn't.

A week later, the GOP leader went on Fox News. He again knew the topic of the interview, He and his staff again had time to prepare for basic questions about obvious details -- such as the single most controversial phrase in a Q&A that created a political earthquake the moment it was uttered. It was only eight words; it stands to reason McCarthy would have familiarized himself with the quote before his national television appearance. But once again, he didn't.

House Republicans don't appear to be sending us their best.